Business + Marketing

Making a Move to Styled Editorial Shoots for Top Magazines

September 10, 2018

By Brienne Walsh

All Photos © Judy Pak

On top of running a bustling wedding, portrait and fine-art photography business, with offices in Manhattan and the Hamptons, Judy Pak has laid roots in the editorial world by shooting styled stories for Martha Stewart Weddings, New York magazine’s wedding issues, The Knot, BRIDES, Style Me Pretty, Carats & Cake, Vogue Italia and many more.

An unplanned shot for a Geraldine Magazine editorial, as the model was adjusting her pose and shifting out of Pak’s frame.

“My personal passions are deeply rooted in fine art, design and lifestyle,” Pak says, and “those influences started seeping into my wedding work,” making the transition from one photographic genre to another a natural one. While she has expanded her repertoire beyond nuptials to styled shoots, she still infuses her shoots with a wedding-inspired style that has, in turn, led to recognition for her wedding work among editorial clients. In 2014, she was named a top East Coast photographer by Martha Stewart Weddings, and for the last three years, Harper’s Bazaar has pegged her to their list of best wedding photographers.

Nowadays, she only shoots about ten weddings a year; the rest of her time is devoted to stylized shoots for magazines and blogs in the realms of wedding, fashion, food, travel and interior design, as well as for small businesses, wedding dress designers, interior designers and hotels. Recent clients include Hampton’s Living, Food52, Design Sponge and the luxury Line Hotel in Washington, D.C. Often, Pak says, she picks up an editorial assignment while she’s traveling for a wedding.

Shot on a rainy day for Lyndsey Hamilton, an event planner and interior designer, and later featured on Design Sponge.

Starting out, her first styled shoots were all independently funded. Pak paid for the props and renting locations; for everything else, she relied on the connections she had made as a wedding photographer. She asked for contributions from florists, hair and makeup artists and designers in exchange for photographs they could use to promote their businesses. “Being someone others like to work with can proliferate through a network quickly, especially in the wedding world,” Pak says.

Having built a reputation for being a professional, reliable and trustworthy photographer, Pak finds that vendors are increasingly reaching out to her for collaborations. In a lot of those cases, rather than scouting her own models, “high-end agencies now let me use their models in exchange for photos,” she says.

It did take some time for Pak to start making money from styled shoots. Her first published editorial was a Marie Antoinette-inspired shoot for Style Me Pretty in 2012 but it was years before the publication hired her to shoot specific editorials for a fee. Subsequent commissions came not from cold-pitching editors but “from word of mouth, referrals and connections between people I’ve met in the wedding industry who are intertwined with the design world in some capacity.” Pak notes that publications have yet to pay her the same fees she makes from wedding clients, “however,” she adds, “as I build my portfolio and grow my network, I believe that will change.”

A shot for Style Me Pretty + Weddington Way’s collection of bridesmaid dresses.

Photographing styled shoots requires a different set of skills and mindset from weddings, Pak notes, so she found herself getting to know her comfort zone.

“A seasoned wedding photographer is unobtrusive yet intuitive enough to capture both the quiet, stolen moments between loved ones as well as the essential details that tell a larger story,” she explains. “In that same vein, each client and celebration is so unique, and while there are critical moments a photographer must capture for a cohesive collection of photos, remaining flexible is a must.” In contrast, “styled shoots have structure in a way that yields an incredible rush of creative adrenaline, forcing you to orchestrate what you need for certain shots and manipulate each scene.”

Upon request, Pak went simple for a Nine Cakes lookbook.

As a photographer rooted in an observant, documentary approach, Pak finds that the most successful styled shoots for her, in turn, are those given with clear creative direction. “Even for shoots I direct myself, I’ve found the most fulfilling endeavors begin when the concept is understood visually and then discussed with the entire team before I ever shoot a frame,” she says.

Pak and the model arrived in Montauk just before golden hour, when the light was still a bit harsh.

Recently, she served as both photographer and creative director on a shoot staged in the sandy dunes of Montauk, New York, that was eventually published on Wedding Sparrow. Although she still produces and directs many of the editorials she pitches to publications, she also likes working as one cog in a larger creative machine. “Having an art director is essential for larger shoots so each artist can truly focus on their craft rather than trying to direct the vision as it unfolds,” she says. “As the photographer, I’m able to focus on capturing the critical shots and be totally present and connected.”

Publications and blogs will have their own in-house team of staff creatives to work with, but Pak has connected with freelance art directors and stylists for some projects as well. On assignment for the Line Hotel, Pak worked with Veronica Rogers, an East Coast-area art director who managed all of the logistics and directed the campaign, which featured an intimate engagement cocktail party. Rogers commissioned the florist, caterers, hair and makeup team and models; all Pak had to do was show up and take the photographs.

For photographers looking to make the transition from just wedding photography to editorial shoots in a variety of disciplines, Pak recommends taking the initiative rather than waiting for a brand to notice you on Instagram.

“Start exploring styled shoots with people you work with well and admire,” she says. “Take the lead on organizing a boutique shoot for a favorite local brand or a new hotel that just opened up. Seek out opportunities even if they aren’t paying your typical fee, but be intentional about those types of collaborative projects to ensure they lead back to your business goals.”

Before even approaching editors, though, Pak says first thing’s first: Build an impressive portfolio that has publication potential. “Editors really appreciate when a photographer has two key components to a clearly defined brand: a distinct style and a diverse portfolio,” in terms of locations, scenarios and vendors. “Show them you know how to use each lens in your proverbial toolbox.”

Related: Mastering the Styled Wedding Photo Shoot

Seamlessly Switching Photo Specialities Without Losing Clients

Hooking Prospective Clients With an Impressive Photography Portfolio That Leads To Real Business